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Theft in a longtime Raleigh practice space highlights the lack of affordable room for bands

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For four years, Raleigh post-rock outfit The White Cascade has recorded all of its practices. More than a means of mere cataloging, the archives serve an integral role in the band's writing process. At each practice, they listen back to previous versions of new songs, perfecting tones and reorganizing parts before arriving at compositions ready to be put on stage and, ultimately, on a record. Three weeks ago, The White Cascade's process stalled.

Early on Thanksgiving morning, thieves broke into the Raleigh rehearsal room that the band shares with fellow rock outfit Goodbye, Titan. More than two dozen other acts practice in the same large, subdivided facility, but only The White Cascade and Goodbye, Titan lost gear during the break-in. Indeed, thieves lifted the band's audio and LCD monitors, a bass and, most important, the group's computer and mixing board. According to the Raleigh Police, the value of the stolen goods tallies to $1,050. But The White Cascade lost something else that can't be quantified—its momentum.

"That's how we write," says bassist Matt Cash. While the band had backed up its recordings and didn't lose any material, the lack of a present recording option in the practice space leaves The White Cascade in gridlock. "Now we're coming in here, and it feels different. We're only doing 50 percent of what we were doing in the past. We capture some real gems in here, and when we can't do that, it sucks."

The White Cascade isn't the first band to be stalled by theft in the labyrinthine practice building it shares just north of downtown Raleigh. This year's Thanksgiving invasion was the fifth significant robbery in just more than three years. As the area music scene continues to grow and as downtown space goes to new restaurants and condos, bars and new businesses, such rehearsal spaces are in high demand. Most homes don't afford musicians the ability to play as loud and as late as they need, and few afford the extra room necessary to store a group's equipment, let alone recording gear. Though this theft-prone space has served as a haven for local acts since 1999, the landlords have been slow to upgrade its security, leaving the artists that practice there vulnerable.

During the Thanksgiving break-in, the thieves entered two other rooms, but the bands that rent those spaces didn't report any stolen goods. Artists haven't been so lucky in the past: In September 2009, Bradley Bonifield reported the theft of $6,250 worth of gear from his practice space. The following December, a pair of burglaries hit rooms belonging to punk outfit Double Negative and the prog-infused pop ensemble Annuals. Double Negative lost a mixer containing an early cut of their 2010 LP, Daydreamnation; Annuals lost a keyboard and a guitar that were key to their complex sound.

The next month, thieves hit another host of rooms, stealing equipment from a space rented by the Raleigh rock band A Rooster for the Masses. The quintet lost a pair of pedal boards and a PA. They replaced the pedals, but the PA was too expensive, forcing the band to settle for an inferior substitute. In addition to these events, Raleigh Police Department records reveal a string of minor thefts and break-in attempts since 2009.

Following the incident in January 2010, Joyner Realty, the Raleigh company that owns the building along with commercial spaces and residential properties such as nearby apartment complex Cameron Court, installed magnetic locks and keypads to the building's two entrances.

The facility comprises two floors of practice rooms, one with 17 units and another with 10. Most of the rooms are about 100 square feet each, though some are a bit larger. The doors to some units in the grimy hallways are black, while a few sparkle with new white paint; those are the doors that Joyner has replaced due to the burglaries. On Thanksgiving, the thieves entered through an emergency exit, a breach that has led many artists to call for additional security assets.

"Just a couple of security cameras," says Ira Rogers, echoing the solution suggested by more than a few tenants. Rogers, who plays drums in groups such as Mad Dog and books punk shows all over town, is the current leaseholder for a room used by at least eight area hardcore acts. He's been practicing in the building since 2008. His space was hit on Thanksgiving. "I don't think the cameras should be inside the spaces. That's a bad idea. I don't think they should put them out in the open where they can just spray paint the lens. I think they should make them hidden and let them try it again. Then we see them and get our stuff back."

Thus far, Joyner has seemed reluctant to implement such additions to its security. Robert Chappell, the broker in charge of the property, declined to speak with INDY Week, but he did offer brief comments on the robbery to NBC-17 two weeks ago. Though he said that Joyner was looking into the possibility of adding security cameras, he added that the measure might not be worth the expense. "At what point," he told the television station, "do you draw the line on what security you add?"

In the past year, the company did add reinforcement to the doors of some individual practice spaces. That measure didn't keep the robbers from breaking down at least one such fortified door on Thanksgiving.

For Allen Palmer of Goodbye, Titan, perhaps the most problematic component of the break-in has been the realtor's reticence after the incident. No one from the agency ever contacted him following the break-in. When he showed up at the practice space, the door had simply been boarded up.

"If you rented a home from Joyner Realty, and your home got broken into over the holidays and you were on vacation, and they knew about it and your discovery of that was coming home and finding all your shit gone, that would be pretty devastating," he says. "I hope that we are just the last of their priorities, and that they wouldn't treat people like that when it's where they live and everything is your home."

In his interview with NBC-17, Chappell acknowledged that Joyner should have contacted tenants about the break-in. The agency would "address that issue internally," he said. As of press time, Palmer had yet to hear from Joyner despite leaving three messages with the company's receptionists.

Some tenants say that the scarcity of Raleigh practice spaces puts Joyner in a position to manage the property poorly and maintain full rooms. Though security has been an issue, the rooms are climate controlled, and musicians can play as loud as they want at any time of the day or night. Additionally, the space's proximity to downtown makes it a convenient meeting ground for many of the bands who practice there.

Though break-in victims A Rooster for the Masses have secured a space outside of Joyner's property, most of the bands that have lost equipment have yet to leave, largely due to a lack of options. There are a few spaces close to the Joyner building, but most of them are mixed-use facilities, making it difficult for them to accommodate louder bands. Volume 11, a heavy metal club outside of downtown Raleigh, includes practice rooms, but it's going out of business at the end of the year, leaving the status of those spaces in doubt. A few years ago, Rogers practiced in another building nearby. It was nicer, he says, and featured a sensitive alarm system, but the rent at that space was about $400, nearly a 40 percent increase over the $270 rent he pays now.

"They know that they can put as little into this as possible, and people are still going to rent it," Cash explains. "Because for everybody that knows about what just happened, 90 percent of the musicians in this town have no idea that our shit just got broken into."

Rogers asserts that the security problems could also be solved by more stringent background checks. Tim Lemuel operates three nearby multi-use arts spaces in Raleigh. He echoes this position, emphasizing that knowing your occupants is one of the best deterrents to crime. Though his facilities feature security no tougher than Joyner's, he hasn't experienced a break-in during the three years since opening his first space.

"I know the names and birthdays of everyone who walks in the building, pretty much," he says. "Everyone who comes in the building to practice is a friend of mine or someone I know very well, so much so that when a stranger comes in everyone kind of perks up and asks them who they are and what their business is. And there tends to be somebody working here 24 hours a day."

Despite the security records boasted by other practice facilities, there are some tenants who see no problem with the way Joyner runs its space. Nick Speaks plays in the band Rocket Cottage; his space was plundered on Thanksgiving, but no gear was stolen. Considering the circumstances, he says, Joyner is doing a good job. Many of the bands that rent spaces are more inclined to party than practice, he says, getting rowdy and causing damage that the company then must pay to fix.

"That place has been a mainstay, a great place for everyone in general," Speaks explains, adding that his main concern is that the complaints of angry tenants might cause Joyner to close the building altogether. "A lot of people are blaming Joyner for this. I think that Joyner definitely has a cash cow in that practice space, and occasionally there will be no air conditioning when it's hot, and there'll be no heat when it's cold. But in general, they keep the bathrooms working. They obviously aren't going to be spending a lot of money on the place."

Few of the artists who share the space would argue with Speaks' assessment of Joyner's spending. The only question is if those resources will be enough to protect them going forward.

"Honestly, I just wouldn't go down there and rent from them because they don't care," advises Wesley Gillespie, guitarist in A Rooster for the Masses. "They just don't care. It's your problem. Don't leave anything that could walk away for the night."

This article appeared in print with the headline "Not caught stealing."

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